Trinity Alps Hiking/Backpacking Trails Update

by John Soares on January 21, 2009

Note: go see the July 1, 2010 Trinity Alps hiking and backpacking trails update post!

The Trinity Alps in far Northern California suffered heavily from fires this summer, and many of the trails that hikers and backpackers love were impacted. I have a special concern because, not only do I love the Trinity Alps, but six hikes in my hiking book 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California are in the Trinity Alps:

Hike 56: Big Bear Lake
Hike 57: Caribou, Emerald, and Sapphire Lakes
Hike 58: Horseshoe and Ward Lakes
Hike 59: Granite Lake and Seven Up Gap
Hike 60: Four Lakes Loop
Hike 61: Canyon Creek Lakes and Boulder Creek Lakes

I’ve just found a Shasta-Trinity National Forest Trinity Alps trail update. I’m happy to report that all six of the trails in my book are in good shape. Of course, they are all under snow now and will be until sometime in late spring/early summer. I’ll be sure to give you an update then.

Check the above trail update link for all of your other favorite Trinity Alps hikes. There are whole books written on Trinity Alps trails. My coauthor Marc and I picked the best six for inclusion in the book. We strongly considered inclusion of Grizzly Lake, but the 100 hike limit for all of Northern California meant we had to leave it out.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Zandona' January 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I was part of a group of 8 that hiked into Caribou Lakes the middle of July 2008. We hiked up the ridge looking down Emerald and Sapphire Lakes, barely being to see the lakes because of all the smoke. I took some videos of the helicopters getting water from Lower Caribou for putting the fires out over the ridge. As we hiked out on the 4th day, we notice quite a few spot fires and what appeared to be in the Southfork Lakes drainage. After we hiked out to the trailhead, they closed it due to fires. I wanted to hike into Grizzly Lake later in the summer, but the trail was closed due to fires. Grizzly Lake is my top priority this year for hiking into.


John Soares January 21, 2009 at 10:34 pm

When I was 16 my brothers Eric and Marc and I, plus two of our friends and a golden retriever named Thor, hiked from Caribou Lake to Grizzly Lake along the upper portion of the South Fork drainage. It was a heck of a hike, and we didn’t have topo maps, just the fishing map. We eventually made our way from Grizzly Lake to the Canyon Creek Lakes and out Stuart’s Fork.

Let’s hope we get a reprieve from the fires this summer. I plan on doing a lot of my hiking in May and June just in case.


Gary Swanson-Dvies March 31, 2009 at 11:14 am

Is a cross-country hike from Lois Lake (a short scramble from Grizzly Lake) to Papoose Lake/Rattlesnake Trail possible? I’d be hiking just after Labor Day ’09. I’m an experienced cross-country hiker, but it’s hard to tell from the topos and sattelite photos if a route is possible. Any help would be greatly appreciated


John Soares April 1, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Gary: I’ve asked a friend what he thinks about that. I’ll let you know what he says. I’ve done a lot of cross-country in that area, but not that particular route, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve been there.


Gary Swanson-Davies April 1, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Thank you, John. I found some information from Deems Burton who hiked what he calls the Trinity Alps High Route last July. He left Grizzly Lake and headed south, going through the pass a little southwest of Wedding Cake. Lots of snow then, judging from the pictures at His topo is the first image.

Looks like an interesting route to do sometime, but I think I’ll try a few more shorter cross-country hikes there before attempting that one! Maybe 2012 if the route I’m doing this year works out.


John Soares April 3, 2009 at 6:41 am

Hello Gary. I like your plan. I talked with my brother Marc, and he said he thinks the route is doable, but you’d need to be quite careful, quite coordinated, and in good physical condition. And that you shouldn’t do it alone.


Gary Swanson-Davies April 11, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I appreciate your help, John! I’m very careful when scrambling. I never put myself into a position where I’d need a rope to be safe, or I would have to rappel. There’s always a way around that sort of situation, though it might add a bit of time and distance.

I’m using a Gibbon Slackline to increase my balance and coordination, plus I’ll have a SPOT and a sat phone with me on this trip.


John Soares April 12, 2009 at 7:17 am

Sounds like you are well prepared Gary. I follow your same guidelines when I’m hiking cross-country, especially when I’m alone.


Ben Doney July 6, 2009 at 10:33 am

I’ve hiked the Stuart Fork/Morris Meadows twice before, and I can’t help but go back. I’m going there this weekend, and bringing 4 others with me that have never been. It’s a great area, with access to other areas of the park if you’re willing to hike up some serious switchbacks. I’ve found it to be a pretty quiet area, with few hikers except for in Morris Meadows. Above that, you don’t see many people. Here’s my plan:

Day 1: Trailhead -> Morris Meadows – 9m
Day 2: Morris Meadows -> Sapphire Lake – 6m
Day 3: Back to Morris Meadows – 6m
Day 4: Back to Trailhead – 9m

One of these days I’m going to have to pull a 7 day trip and hike from Canyon Creek to the top of Sawtooth, then down to the Stuart Fork trailhead. Every time I leave it just seems like too soon.


John Soares July 6, 2009 at 11:19 am

Great trip. I’ve done it several times myself, and have even hiked cross country to Mirror Lake.

I’ve also done the hike from the Sapphire Lake trail up and over to Caribou Lake. It’s a bear.


Josh Tyhust July 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

My wife and I are planning a trip up the stuart Fork into Emerald lake and are hoping to do it In one day of hiking. Is this do able? We have made yearly trip to the Trinitys for the last 7 plus years and are in good physical condition it took us about five hour to get to Caribu Lake from coffe Creek trail head last time we did it. But the 13 Miles to emerald lake sound like a long day. so is any one out there who has done it in a day who could give any feed back? Thank you.


John Soares July 12, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I’ve done the hike to Morris Meadows several times. It’s a long, long slog to Emerald Lake from the Cherry Flat area. The trail goes up and down the side of the mountain many times, so there is a lot of elevation gain.

That said, if you’re in great shape and you start early in the morning, you should be able to make it. If not, you can camp in Morris Meadows.


chris goddard July 25, 2009 at 1:30 am

Hello John,
I’d like to take my 10 y/o daughter on her first backpacking trip. I’d like to go to the Trinity Alps or Marble Mtns. Fishing access would be great. Any suggestions for a easy to moderate hike? It’s been several years since I’ve been out that way. Thanks


John Soares July 25, 2009 at 7:36 am

Chris, one problem with the Trinity Alps is that nearly all the hiking trails require a lot of elevation gain to get to the good stuff, and I think this may be too much for a ten-year-old on her first trip.

I suggest you take her to the Deadfall Lakes and summit of Mount Eddy, located just west of Mount Shasta. You can camp at one of the Deadfall Lakes the first night, climb Mount Eddy the second day, and then spend another night at your lake and take extra time to explore the basin. The Mount Shasta Ranger Station has all the information and maps you need (530-926-4511). The hike is also covered in both my hiking guides.


Yuri Oushakoff June 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Hi John,

I’d like to take my son and nephew up to Trinity in a few weeks. Given the strange weather conditions this year I am concerned about some trails being still snow covered. The boys aren’t equipped for that so I was wondering on your recommendations on hiking trails on lower elevations in that area. I haven’t researched the snow pack in that area yet so it may not be a concern after all. Do you know of any resources to use to look into that? Thanks!



John Soares June 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Yuri, the longer you wait the better. There’s a lot of snow up there. You may even want to go to lower elevation places in the Sierra Nevada instead.


Georgiy Romanyuk June 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Mr. Oushakoff,
Here are a couple sources to consider when planning a trip in the Trinities:
this link is generally updated weekly, and contains all sorts of useful information:

This is the snow pack conditions report at Shimmy Lake, elevation 6400 ft.
It will elucidate both the depth of snow at that altitude and the rate at which it is melting. Updated hourly.

Right now, the conditions are not very inviting, but give it a few weeks and you will be good to go.
I am planning a trip myself, and will try to get out there as early as possible. Udachi, i priyatnogo otdyha. :)


Gary Robertson July 29, 2009 at 9:42 am

Gary Swanson-Dvies said,

on March 31st, 2009 at 11:14 am

Is a cross-country hike from Lois Lake (a short scramble from Grizzly Lake) to Papoose Lake/Rattlesnake Trail possible? I’d be hiking just after Labor Day ‘09. I’m an experienced cross-country hiker, but it’s hard to tell from the topos and sattelite photos if a route is possible. Any help would be greatly appreciated

People do it — some opt for the high route — some stay somewhat lower and try and connect with the (now abandon) Bear Valley Springs Trail — which — connects with the Rattlesnake Creek Trail at Enni Camp. The low route can be brushy. I was camped at Papoose Lake back in the early ’90s and a group of very exhausted Girl Scouts trekked in — they had just cross-country-ed from Grizzly to Papoose. Their leader seemed slightly disoriented — wasn’t certain which lake they were at — said his group had fought brush — had had to lower packs down cliffs with ropes — etc. They made it but I got the impression that he wasn’t going to do that route again.


Tyeler June 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm


I’m planning a trip to the Trinity Alps July 9,10,11. I’m an experienced backpacker, but I’m taking a couple of first time backpackers. Does anyone have any suggestions on a location that isn’t extremely difficult with decent fishing. Also our group is going to be between 8-10 people.


John Soares June 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Tyeler, most of the Trinity Alps are under a heavy blanket of snow. I suggest you do a lower elevation hike in the Sierra Nevada.


Casey John July 6, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I’ve been talking about a backpacking trip in north california. This looks like a promising place.


Jeff Leecing July 22, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Snowslide and lower carigbou are open. Caribou is still coverd in snow. Two places on the trail a little sketchy.


John Soares July 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Thanks for the update Jeff!


Georgiy Romanyuk July 22, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I am about to go up to Grisly Lake via China Gulch trailhead. I expect a little snow on the way to the lake, but nothing serious. I’ll be sure to update this thread when I am back–the planned time is eight days and seven nights.


John Soares July 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Have a great time Georgiy, and be careful on that least steep stretch to the lake.

I once hiked down from Grizzly Lake after a mid-September storm dropped a few inches of snow.


Georgiy Romanyuk August 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm

We had a last minute change of plans due to my buddy’s schedule opening up, and we decided to do a shuttle trip, starting at China Gulch, and ending at Hobo gulch with cars on both ends of the trail. The first night we went up to Hunters’ Camp, and found the little rivulet called China Spring; we decided to stay the night there, given that it was already 20:00 by the time we reached the spring. At night, we had an encounter with two bear cubs–this is the only water source for miles around. Luckily, we did not see the mama bear. The second day we hiked all the way into Grizzly Lake. On the way, we were hit by a freak hale-storm (!), and were stuck under a tarp for almost an hour right on the trail. When we got up to the lake, it still had a few ice chunks floating around. Fishing was excellent, but the fish themselves were relatively skinny. The second night we hiked into Jorstad Cabin, and spent two nights fixing the water pipeline from the creek. The next day, we dropped by Morrison Cabin, and hiked down to Rattlesnake Camp, spending the night there. In the morning, we hiked all the way to Papoose lake with full packs; the lake was free of snow, and warm enough to take a short swim. We spent the night, and hiked back to the camp the next morning, staying there for the last night, and hiking out to the car at Hobo gulch in the morning. The trail to Papoose is in disrepair, but navigable–the other trails are in fine condition. The mid-day sun is scorching, however, so be sure to wear headgear and sunglasses, as well as keep hydrated.


John Soares August 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Georgiy, this sounds like a great trip. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to Grizzly Lake and Papoose Lake, and you did them both in one go. That’s a lot of miles under your boots.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Much appreciated!


sam August 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Hi I am planning a backpacking trip with me and another person or two in early september and am interested in the trinity alps. I’d like to do around 50 miles and I wanted some advice on some of the better locations around there. I have plenty of experience backpacking and hiking but I am unfamiliar with this particular area. If someone could tell me about some great loops or locations to hike to that would be great (the less people the better). I’m open to other areas in northern california as well but i thought i might give the trinity a try. Give me some ideas please! thanks.


John Soares August 4, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Sam, tell us more about the conditioning level and hiking skills of your entire party. The Trinity Alps are overall quite rugged, and doing a 50-mile hike could easily involve some cross-country and route-finding skills.

And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of solitude in early September (except maybe Labor Day, but even that wouldn’t be very crowded).


sam August 4, 2010 at 7:26 pm

We are all in great shape, I walk at least 10 miles daily for my job and i have been to the summit of mt. rainier and whitney as well as 50 plus milers on the lost coast and devils postpile regions and the other members of the party also exercise daily. Also i am an eagle scout with a pretty good knowledge of topo maps/ orienteering and am comfortable going off trail (that is what you mean by cross country?)i was also considering buying a gps for the trip but have not used one in the past. I guess i wasn’t looking for a hike to max out our skill level but more of suggestions for some exceptional/ serene locations (a peak might be nice too). I have been looking around but i can’t seem to find anywhere that has a far enough distance besides the pct which we were trying to avoid simply because of it’s heavy use.


John Soares August 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Sam, I don’t have my book or my maps with me right now. The problem in the Trinity Alps is connecting trails from one part to another.

That said, you can do a great trip and stay on (sometimes steep and exposed) trail and do:

Four Lakes loop: Diamond, Deer, Luella…
Morris Meadows and Emerald and Sapphire Lake
Caribou Lake

Be sure to get the Trinity Alps Wilderness map first.

If you are planning your trip for after Labor Day, you should strongly consider Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. It’s stunning and there are lots of interconnecting trails to lakes and peaks. And there shouldn’t be many people then.

Let us know what you decide to do!


Mark May 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I live in the Pacific Northwest and during the summer months have enjoyed taking my children, currently 8 and 5, on short backpack trips . This time, for my wife’s 40th, we are trying to plan a trip where we can meet up half-way with her brothers family somewhere in the Northern California wilderness. I generally try for spots that are a short hike in, less than 2-3 miles, so that its not too much on the little ones. Any thoughts would be appreciated. This is a big b-day for my wife so I am trying to make it a memorable one. Thx.


Dean May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Any updates on how many of these are accessible at this early date this year?


Joshua Hazelwood May 25, 2012 at 11:06 am

I have been up to Tangle blue lake a little bit of butt kicker. Will big bear be easier to hike? there will be 6 of us but not all are expericed hikers, what other trails would you reccomend under 5 miles one way. thanks for your help.


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